Thursday, February 6, 2014

[[Turn To You: A Novella]] -- PART EIGHT

Todd decided to skip school the next morning, so there was no one around to keep me awake in my first couple of classes. In Spanish, we were learning a string of new words and I could barely pay attention to repeat them after Mrs. Santiago. By the time the last bell rang, I hurriedly grabbed my books from the locker and headed for the parking lot. I had to swing by and pick up Rhonda at her tennis game so that we could get home and get ready together. Her friend, Joe waved at me when I stopped the car in front of the courts and Rhonda climbed in.

"How is Joe?" I asked as she threw her bag into the backseat. We'd all grown up on the same street and Rhonda and Joe had been friends a long time. He was a tennis fanatic so they played together often. Rhonda liked sports as exercise because, she said, it was a fun way to stay healthy. 

"Joe's great," she said. "He and this new guy he's been seeing seem to really have hit it off. He's thinking of moving in with him."

"But he's only 20," I said, alarmed.

"Geez, Asha. Who died and made you the moral police?" She was right, of course. What the hell did I know?

"Sorry," I said. "Joe's a grown man. He can move in or get married or leap off tall buildings in a single bound if he wants to. I guess maybe I am nervous about tonight."

"Don't be. Either everyone will hit it off or we'll all hate each other, but we'll still love you. Don't waste your worry on something so silly."

I tried to smile, but my stomach was still in knots. I drove home in fidgety silence until we pulled into the driveway, Rhonda finally said, "That's it!"

"What?" I said, startled and somewhat alarmed.

"You! You're freaking out! I have the remedy for that. Come with me." She slammed the car door behind her and I followed her inside where she lead the way upstairs.

"Sit down," she ordered when we reached my bedroom.

I did as I was told, flopping onto the bed. She began sifting through her satchel, pulling out everything: a sweater, make-up, wallet, books...and finally, a flask.

"You need some alcoholic therapy," she said, shoving the flask at me. "Drink this!"

"Ugh," I said. "I don't drink Rhonda. It always tastes bad to me - bitter or burning. How you do it, I have no idea. But I don't like liquor."

"It's butterscotch scnapps," she said. "And trust me, you'll like it. It's better than cough syrup. It's sweet! Would I lie to you?"

I looked at her suspiciously.

"Oh c'mon. You're a wreck and I don't know why, but I promise you that this will make you feel better."

I sighed and took the flask from her. I opened it, tilted my head back and took my first gulp with my eyes squeezed shut - ready for whatever may come. I was expecting something revolting to assault my tastebuds, but instead, there was a syrupy toffee flavor. Rhonda was right - it was kinda good. When I looked at her, she laughed.

"You look so completely shocked," she said. "I told you, didn't I?"

"You win," I said. "It's definitely more pleasant than any other drink I've tried so far."

"Go ahead, have some more. I have the whole bottle around here somewhere."

"Ooh," I said. "Let's get more, then. Todd's driving."

She laughed. "Oh my, I've created a monster!"

I smirked and took another swig. "Hey, how did you get this stuff anyway?"

"Friend of mine at school. That's the great thing about college, dear. Older friends that can buy you alcohol."

"Lucky you," I said. "I wish I were in college already. Some days I get so tired of it here."

"Wow," Rhonda said, "Sounds like you're already feeling the effects of that."
"You drink more, too," I commanded her, handing the flask bacl to her. I had to admit that I was feeling a little cloudy, in the best way. I wanted to spin and spin around, but I also still had butterflies. Only they were different than before. I was trying to concentrate on everything that felt good about the moment: the taste of sweet candy liquor on my tongue, the presence of my cousin and best friend, the fact that I'd be seeing Betsy. I get to see Betsy, I thought. It was so strange the way that thought came to me. It seemed like it was the happiest thought in the world and it made me want to squeal joyously or dance around or hug everyone. 

Rhonda unearthed the rest of the bottle and we passed it back and forth between us. Then she lit one of her cigarettes and walked over to the window to crack it open. My parents were not home and neither was my brother - he'd gone to play at his friend's house and my mom was supposed to pick him up later on her way home. She opened the window to air out the room so it wouldn't smell as much like smoke. We'd use incense later to cover whatever odor was left.

"Can I have one of those?" I said, nodding toward her pack of Winstons.

"Look at you," Rhonda said. "Getting rebellious finally, eh?" 

"I've always been rebellious," I said defensively.

"Yeah Asha. You're a regular James Dean." She snorted, but held out the pack to me anyway.

"What?" I said, frowning as I took one between my fingers.

"You do everything perfectly. I'll bet you never even fight with your parents. Not even with your mom - though you've certainly been holding a grudge against her ever since -"

"Shut up!" I said, covering my ears. I didn't want to think about it. Especially not tonight.

"Sorry," she said. "I know I am being a jerk. I have no idea what came over me."

I stuck the cigarette in my mouth and lit it. The first time I inhaled, I nearly dropped the cigarette and burned the carpet - that's how much I was coughing. Rhonda patted my back.

"You have to do it like this," she said. She took her cigarette and inhaled, but not too deep. I tried puffing again and this time, it was okay. After a few more inhales, I started to feel a little dizzy. But then I took a few more sips of the schnapps and felt fine.

Rhonda was flicking some ashes out the window when she saw Todd's car pull up. We still hadn't gotten ready, but I thought what I was wearing was fine. It was jeans and a halter top and I had on my sneakers already. Rhonda put out her cigarette and went to the bathroom to change into a different shirt. I waited for Todd to ring the doorbell and then I put out my own cigarette and ran downstairs. He was leaning against the door when I opened it and he looked a little smug. He had on a black t-shirt underneath a button-down Polo shirt and had his black hair slicked back. I stepped aside and let him in. Once he was right beside me and about to give me a kiss, he coughed.

"Asha, you smell like a dirty ashtray and...something else. Baked goods? Hey, were you smoking?"

"And drinking," I said, a little peturbed.

"Already? You couldn't do that with me? I mean, really! We could have gone out with my friends and gotten high if I'd known you were suddenly going to be into that."

I rolled my eyes and started to walk away, but he grabbed my arm.

"Don't be like that," he said. "It doesn't mean I don't want to be with you tonight, kitten. C'mere." He pulled me to him and tried to kiss me, but it felt like I was kissing a wall. Rhonda came out of the bathroom and cleared her throat.

"Everybody ready?" she said, grabbing her jacket and wallet. "Let's bolt."

We all shuffled out to Todd's car and headed toward Agostino's. I started to feel excited again about seeing Betsy. I was fidgeting in my seat and Todd put his hand on my lap.

"Geez, Ash - quit that! You're really distracting me right now," he said. I moved away from his hand and sat motionless, staring out into the dark. When we arrived outside Agostino's, I spotted Betsy's car right away. She was standing next to it, with her arms folded, waiting for us. She smiled when she saw me. In the middle of the lot, the four of us came together and I made introductions.

"Betsy, this is my cousin Rhonda and my boyfriend Todd," I said. 

"Nice to meet you, Betty," Todd said.

"It's Betsy," she said. "We met once before. At Byron Hall, but I think we were both a little out of it." She gave him a friendly smile.

"Oh," he said. "Right."

He started to walk toward the restaurant. I shrugged at Betsy and mouthed the word "sorry." What I would have liked to have said was, "sorry my boyfriend is an idiot douchebag."

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